DMU staff and students can find further useful information and guidance on each of the protected characteristics, with support on both employment and learning and teaching, on the Diversity Learning Zone.
A new Equality Act (2010) received Royal Assent in April 2010. This Act replaced nine equality laws and more than 100 other measures.
The Equality Act makes provision to protect people with certain ‘protected characteristics’ from unlawful discrimination. The protected characteristics are:
- Gender reassignment
- Marriage and civil partnership
- Pregnancy and maternity
- Religion or belief, or none
- Sex (previously gender)
- Sexual orientation.
There is a new definition of direct discrimination which extends protection based on ‘association’ and ‘perception’.
Discrimination by association can occur if, for example:
A student, whose child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is refused access to a graduation ceremony because of fears about the child’s behaviour.
Discrimination by perception can occur if, for example:
An employer decides not to promote a female employee because senior staff believe her to be pregnant irrespective of whether she is pregnant or not.
A mental health and wellbeing officer refuses to work with a student because they believe the student to be gay irrespective of whether the student is gay or not.
The concept of indirect discrimination has been extended to disability. Indirect discrimination occurs when a provision, criterion or practice appears neutral but its impacts particularly disadvantages people with a protected characteristic.
The act outlines three types of harassment:
- Unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the complainant, or violating the complainant’s dignity (this applies to all the protected characteristics apart from pregnancy and maternity, and marriage and civil partnership).
- Unwanted conduct of a sexual nature (sexual harassment).
- Treating a person less favourably than another person because they have either submitted to, or did not submit to, sexual harassment or harassment related to sex or gender reassignment.
The act also makes it unlawful for an employer to harass employees and people applying for employment.
It also makes the employer liable in the case of harassment of its employees by third parties, such as maintenance contractors over whom the employer does not have direct control, unless the employer has taken reasonable steps to prevent the third party from doing so.
This only applies if the employer knows that the employee has been harassed on at least two previous occasions.
Victimisation takes place where one person treats another less favourably because he or she has asserted their legal rights in line with the act or helped someone else to do so.
Victimisation may occur if, for example:
- A student alleges that they have encountered racism from a tutor, and as a result they are ignored by other staff members.
- A senior member of staff starts to behave in a hostile manner to another member of staff who previously supported a colleague in submitting a formal complaint against the senior manager for sexist behaviour.
- An employer brands an employee as a ‘troublemaker’ because they raised a lack of job-share opportunities as being potentially discriminatory.
Currently, the law only allows for limited positive action measures in relation to employment.
The act extends the law and now also includes positive action for students. It provides scope for HEIs to adopt voluntary positive action measures to alleviate disadvantage experienced by people who share a protected characteristic, reduce under representation in relation to particular activities, and meet particular needs.
Such measures would need to be a proportionate way of achieving the relevant aim. This could, for example, cover taking any kind of action to increase participation from under-represented students of a particular ethnicity.